KIPS Blog: Parenting Assessment in Practice & Research

Talk About Parenting? How to Open the Conversation

Posted by Marilee Comfort on Fri, Dec 11, 2015 @ 02:41 PM

Fotolia_75946672_XS.jpgIf you haven’t already looked at the November 2015 issue of the Zero to Three Journal, then this holiday season may be the right time. It opens with a thought-provoking article on parents’ reactions to current messages about parenting challenges and opportunities, exactly what the holidays bring with the increased interactions with extended family. This article, Parenting in the 2000s: Learning From Millenial Moms and Dads [Claire Lerner (2015). Zero To Three Journal, vol. 36(2), pages 2-7.] summarizes the thoughts and feelings of 34 mothers and fathers of young children about key messages currently relayed to parents about raising healthy children and preventing their abuse. The millennial generation of parents (ages mid 20s to 30s) represents 80% of the caregivers for the approximately 4 million US babies born per year. They have the benefit of media messaging on the importance of experiences in the early years for children’s readiness for school and their long-term health and development. Zero To Three wanted to hear some honest discussions of what these messages mean to millennial parents. 

The focus groups explored the following 8 Messages:

1. The Impact of a Child’s Early Experiences Can Last A Lifetime.

2. There is No Such Thing as a Perfect Parent.  We All Make Mistakes.  We Just Need to Learn From Them   and Try Again.

3. Tuning in to and Accepting Your Child’s Individual Identity Is Important for Nurturing His or Her Self-Esteem.

4. Love Means Setting Limits.

5. Parents Sometimes Have Unrealistic Expectations for Their Child. Understanding What to Expect Based on a Child’s Age Is Important for Being an Effective Parent.

6. Sometimes Young Children Push Your Buttons, Triggering Intense Emotions. Learning to Identify and Manage Your Feelings and Reactions Helps You Be a More Effective Parent.

7. Shaming Your Child – Such as Calling Him/Her Names and Putting Him/Her Down – Can Be Emotionally Abusive, and as Detrimental as Physical Abuse.

8. Reflecting on Your Own Childhood Experiences Helps You Consciously Choose Which Practices You Do and Don’t Want to Continue With Your Child.

[Claire Lerner (2015). Parenting in the 2000s: Learning From Millenial Moms and Dads. Zero To Three Journal, vol. 36(2), pages 2-7.]

I love this list because they are such wonderful conversation-openers for parents. If you provide family support services, you can probably hear a few of these messages coming out of your own mouth. These messages represent much of what we have learned from research over the past few decades regarding the pivotal role of nurturing parenting on children’s social-emotional health and well-being.  They also mirror the messages we hope practitioners will discuss with families as they use the KIPS parenting assessment.

Zero To Three used an innovative “social network” approach to conduct a series of focus groups in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles, asking a target parent to invite several friends to a group discussion in his/her home. Their goal was to create a comfortable, trusting atmosphere to gather the perspectives of young culturally- (African American, Caucasian, Hispanic) and relationship- (single, married, co-parenting) diverse parents regarding current messages about positive parenting in the face of the challenges posed by young children. One must understand that this approach may gain greater depth and intimacy of discussions, but it also risks collecting narrow viewpoints that are not necessarily representative of the general population. 

In the article, you’ll find genuine soul-searching responses from these mothers and fathers. Most agreed with the 8 messages, but they also commented on how hard it is to be the best parent you can be, that is, taking responsibility by respecting and nurturing your child, while setting limits, learning from mistakes and managing your own feelings. 

Here’s a sample of the parents’ comments:

“I think to myself all the time, ‘Am I being too hard on him?  Is he going to remember this 10 years from now?’ It’s hard, as a parent. . . . if I’m doing the right thing.”

“Accept them for who they are, but at the same time try to show them where they can go.  There’s a balance between making sure your kids know you love them no matter what. . . . It’s accepting, but shaping.”

[Read many more in Claire Lerner (2015). Parenting in the 2000s: Learning From Millenial Moms and Dads. Zero To Three Journal, vol. 36(2), pages 2-7.]

Zero To Three plans to use the insights gained from these focus groups to inform the content of their array of parenting resources  and professional training opportunities for practitioners in health, education and social services settings.    

In our fast-paced, tech-based information society, many young parents may hesitate to discuss parenting issues in-depth with their families. Instead, they may search for digital information online. Some may not have positive parenting role models or know who to turn to for parenting advice. Others may wish to break their cycle of negative parenting and take a different path when raising their own children. As we showed in a previous blog, young parents often turn to their peers to mull over the challenges with their children. The focus groups showed that millennial parents appreciate reflecting on current parenting messages. They also are very interested in discussing their own parenting with other parents. Why not leverage this -- during parent workshops, group socializations, or parent support groups?  Rather than rushing to give expert advice, allow time for parents to share positive strategies with one another. How do you give parents the opportunity to reflect on their parenting with other parents? 

This sharing with peers may motivate parents to personalize these conversations by exploring alternative approaches to their parenting in more depth.  This is when an observational parenting assessment, like KIPS, could be helpful to assess each parent’s strengths during interactions with his/her child and highlight areas for parenting growth. Parenting assessments can help parents reflect more deeply and focus their attention on what matters to their children’s development.

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Tags: Parenting Assessment, parenting stress, infant mental health, nurturing parenting, parenting messaging